Warning: This report contains details of a sexual assault case, as heard in court, that readers may find disturbing.
A rapist found guilty of crimes described by a prosecutor in one instance as “torture” was justly convicted and sentenced to nine and a half years in prison, the NWT Court of Appeal has ruled.
Peter Charles Tsetta last month appealed his 2019 convictions and sentences for the sexual assault of his former spouse in May 2017 and the sexual assault and forcible confinement of his “trusted friend,” Cynthia Grandjambe, in June 2017.
Grandjambe, 48, applied for a publication ban protecting her identity to be lifted, telling Cabin Radio she hoped to “break the silence” around sexual violence. The first victim testified at Tsetta’s preliminary inquiry but died before the trial commenced.
Tsetta’s appeal lawyer, Jennifer Cunningham, argued that NWT Supreme Court Chief Justice Louise Charbonneau incorrectly admitted the first victim’s police statement introduced at the preliminary inquiry. Cunningham also stated Charbonneau applied “uneven scrutiny” when assessing Tsetta’s evidence and that of Grandjambe.
“It is important to underscore that trial counsel did not argue that [the first victim]’s statement should not be admitted because it would be unfair to do so,” stated the appeal court in a ruling released late Friday. “Rather, trial counsel argued the statement was not substantively reliable.”
Through his lawyer, Tsetta also argued the trial judge used Grandjambe’s life experience to “justify her combativeness and her reactions to certain questions,” while no similar leniency was extended to him.
“The record demonstrates the trial judge was not concerned about Tsetta’s reliability, but rather she doubted his credibility,” stated the appeal court, in rejecting the conviction appeals.
The thrust of Tsetta’s sentence appeal was that the sentencing judge failed to incorporate his systemic and individual background as an Indigenous offender, known as Gladue factors.
Tsetta was 51 years old at the time of sentencing, stated the appeal court. He was raised in Ndilǫ, left home at 15 years of age, and was essentially homeless. He was one of 19 children and many of his older siblings attended residential schools.
Tsetta’s criminal record dated to 1987 and involved a variety of offences, including violence, property crime, and some drug offences.
At sentencing, Justice Charbonneau outlined the principles set out in Gladue and noted that “application of these principles may sometimes result in a reduction of the jail term that would otherwise be imposed.”
Charbonneau stated if Tsetta had been sentenced separately for the offences against the first victim and Grandjambe, she would have imposed a total sentence of 11 years – a “crushing” term and more than what was needed to achieve the sentencing objectives.
Charbonneau recognized Tsetta “presents a very real danger to the safety of the members of this community,” stated the appeal court, in rejecting the sentence appeal.